I never suspected Matt Polley to be a Hector Lavoe fan. He’s a kid from Indiana and well…he looks the part. So when he asked me to perform with him at this year’s Amoebapalooza covering Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon songs, I was a bit surprised. Amoebapalooza is fun as far as seeing your co-workers live out their rock and roll fantasies, but it’s usually just that -- rock band after rock band with a smattering of folk, experimental music and Electronica. Salsa at Amoebapalooza? I’ve always been a punk at heart, so playing Salsa at Amoebapalooza would be more punk rock than actually playing punk rock.
Matt and I talked about it for weeks before Amoebapalooza. We signed up as "Lo Mato" and then went combing the store for people who would want to perform with us. We found two people. Cashier Ricky Ray Rivera was down, as was Erick, who works in the Reggae and Hip-Hop section. Erick and Ray were to play percussion as well as sing the chorus...so that meant me on bass, Ray and Erick on percussion and Matt Polley as Hector Lavoe.
Paul Vasquez, who works in the World Music section, wanted to get in on the action. He told Polley he had a trombone and although he hadn’t played in a while he would start practicing. He had not picked up a trombone since elementary school. For Paul to pull off the Willie Colon parts would be nothing short of a miracle! Most professional trombone players would find the task difficult. So it meant a rusty trombone player as Willie Colon.
Weeks went by and we hadn’t practiced once. Amoebapalooza was a week away and Matt was in a slight panic. He had found a piano player and a drummer and by then Paul had backed out, so we had no horns. I called my friend Pat Hoed to take over for me on bass. He is a huge Willie Colon/Hector Lavoe fan so he knew all the songs already. I switched to the keyboards and got my friend Jeremy Keller on guitar to help me play the horn lines. We learned the horn lines an hour before our first and only rehearsal.
Our rehearsal was rough. Only Pat and the piano player knew the songs. I only knew the parts on the bass but not the horn lines. When Matt sang for the first time a little voice came out of the P.A. system, not Hector Lavoe-like at all. Our music lumbered along with no swing and a tiny voice coming out of the P.A.We all started laughing and shaking our heads after the first song. Maybe we should have practiced more. However, the drummer didn’t show up, so most of our problems were not having someone holding down the beat. By the end of practice we had gone through the two songs at least twice and it didn’t sound half bad.
For the actual Amoebapalooza, Matt dyed his hair black with a spray can and put on the trademark Lavoe sunglasses. He even had some of the Lavoe moves down. Some of his co-workers didn’t know that it was him singing! The drummer showed up and we had some backbeat to guide us through. We played “Dia De Me Suerte” and “Eso Se Baile Asi!” I actually liked it more than I thought I would. I was really surprised to see some of the Amoebites dancing. It sounded like what we were -- Non-Salseros playing Salsa, Punk Rock Salsa. The next day Matt was the buzz around Amoeba, everyone talking about how well he did. People asked me if Matt was fluent in Spanish. Other than those songs he doesn’t know very much, so he did well to fool some people. Some staff that went to the show asked about Willie Colon/Hector Lavoe’s music, which made me happy. I’m always glad to share everything I know about their music. To me, Lavoe and Colon were one of the great songwriting team of all time and it was a honor to play homage to them.
Here are more pictures, taken by Joanna Hernandez & myself.